ShiroKaisen sat down last weekend at All-Star to talk with Alexei "LeX" Kitsak, the IWC AD carry representating the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) region. They discuss the current state of professional League in CIS, LoL's role in a region traditionally dominated by DotA, and the future infrastructure needed to push CIS player talent to the top.
Alexei "LeX" Kitsak
What was the feeling for you guys to play against all these other regions?
Let's be honest. We're here because we won the Wild Card tournament – we did decently well in 5v5, but when we went against Turkey in the finals they crushed us. So coming here, none of us thought we could beat someone. Those guys are so experienced, and so cool, and so good, and they have coaches, analysts, and stuff and we don't. It was experience for us, and we wanted to know what we could do versus them.
You don't have any coaches or analysts at all?
Actually, only two teams in CIS have coaches, and they're not coaches like you're used to – they just helping out. And we have only one or two analysts as well. We hope that next Starladder season is going to be better because we actually had good results in the Wild Card tournament, so we hope that Riot will give us some... not money, but some opportunities to use, and we can go and compete versus other regions.
Most people don't have much of an idea what League is like in CIS – their only exposure has been Moscow 5 competing in Europe. What is it like to play League there?
I played in Hard Random for two seasons in a row, and we won the tournament twice and went to the Wild Card tournament. Last season, everyone tried to find a good mix to face Hard Random, and we met in the grand finals in the last season in Moscow. We didn't train a lot, and they almost beat us – it was 2-3, because Hard Random had really big issues with coaching staff and shot calling. At the moment we have really good mechanical players like Kira, Smurf, and even me. We have a lot of players who can play at a high level but our team play is at a really, really low level because we have no coaches and analysts and we don't play enough 5v5.
Is that because you're all working or studying, or because you don't have enough scrim partners?
We have a lot of scrim partners – we have Turkey and we have EU, though not a lot of EU teams will scrim us because of our skill level, though they might after this. Not me personally, but 90% of our players are studying. In CIS only two or three teams have salaries, and our salaries are really funny. I won't give you numbers, but it's really funny. Other Wild Card teams will tell us their salaries and we're like “What? How can you even play?” That's why no one in CIS will become a pro player. I'm not saying that Riot Games in Russia is doing bad work, they're doing well for us, and Starladder does a lot for us. We're trying to be like LCS, but the problem is that our region doesn't have a lot of people who want to be a cyber sportsman compared to Turkey, Europe, or Brazil.
In the CIS region for other games, especially Dota, there have been a lot of strong players but it's been no secret that the infrastructure has not been very strong and that players have been underpaid. What's the average engagement in the area? Are the fans passionate? What's it like?
For the average Starladder match, there's not even 10,000 viewers. It's nothing compared to Brazil and Turkey. The fact is that the CIS players are really good in Dota and the Dota community is like 10x bigger than League. Even the Hearthstone community is bigger. That's why Riot Games is trying to fix it, trying to give some opportunities to players so that they'll want to become pro players, but it's really hard. The CIS players just like Dota.
The CIS players showed up at the International Wild Card Invitational earlier on in the year and at the qualifier later on, and didn't do particularly well, but then did really well at the IWCA later to get here. Do you feel like the region has done a lot of leveling up throughout the year, or is that incidental?
We performed pretty well at the first Wild Card tournament in Turkey – we went 4-2 and lost to Brazil – but we played really horrible at the next one. It wasn't because of the CIS community or the players, but because Hard Random had so many issues within the team. It's only that – nothing more. It's all about five characters, five persons who didn't want to play together. But for this last event in Melbourne, I think we proved that even with so few opportunities and resources we have talented players. So we just need something to help us, that's all. I think if we get this help, we'll make All Stars next year easy.
It seems, in general, Riot has put a lot more energy into the Wild Card scene this year, with the All Stars and with multiple events. What would you want to see in terms of more international competition, because it's clear this has done a lot for these regions this year?
First I'd like to say a really big thanks to Riot Games because they saw that the Wild Card regions needed help and did it. The resources they give us are really cool, but for CIS personally, it's not enough. We have so many internal issues within the region. What I think would help us would, first of all, be a real Russian LCS with salaries from Riot and a lot of LAN games so the CIS community could see what League is. When you go onto Twitch, only the Dota community knows what StarladderTV is because it's big there. For League, it's like “what is this?” If it was Riot Games, it'd bring people in.
What kind of venue were the finals in?
I competed in two LAN finals: one was in Minsk and one was in Moscow. It was also in Kiev, St. Petersburg, and in Moscow again. We have no cyber arena in one place, but we travel around Russia or Ukraine so that people around CIS will know what League of Legends is. But we don't have our own personal studio for playing League of Legends like Brazil or Turkey. All Starladder matches, excluding the finals, are online.
Was this your first time in North America, by the way? What did you think?
Yea; I think it's really cool. I saw a lot of movies and videos of the USA but when you actually arrive here it's really cool. I really like it.
What do you think is the biggest difference between here and the CIS region?
Haha, let me see... first of all, I think we can approach you and say “Cool, how are you doing? What's up?” In Russia, you can't do this – everyone's just going to talk and communicate with their friends and family. I like it very much because a lot of people talked to me and it was cool, I'm a really communicable person. Second, I think it's really obvious but architecture is different. In Russia there's not many places to walk to, we have a lot of palaces and stuff. That's why I like it. I want to come here again.
Hopefully you'll get a chance to! I saw you downstairs taking some pictures with some of the fans, what's that been like?
It's really cool. When I won my first 1v1 people were like “Oh, Lex, cool! Can I get a picture?” In Moscow there's nothing to do with fans, they just watch and say “Oh, that's cool,” and go. It inspires me to play League of Legends and it really motivates me.
Does that mean you're going to continue to try to be a full time pro gamer and make it back to the world stage?
Yeah, of course, because I'm not even studying and I've put a lot into League of Legends. I'm only 20, so I think I have got a lot of time to work. I hope to. My goal is not even CIS; I want to go to Europe.
We'll be keeping an eye on you for sure. Thanks for your time.